Boris Johnson backtracks on remarks about jailed UK-Iranian woman

Richard Ratcliffe husband of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe during a vigil for his wife | Chris J Ratcliffe  Getty Images

Boris Johnson has accepted he "could have been clearer" when making comments that Tehran reportedly used to justify extending the jail sentence of a British woman being held in Iran.

Her daughter was taken from her and lives now with relatives in Iran.

The Iranian judiciary's High Council for Human Rights said Johnson's comments proved Zaghari-Ratcliffe "had visited the country for anything but a holiday".

"Like Richard Ratcliffe, her husband, I see a direct correlation between this statement by Boris Johnson, who rightly condemned the treatment that Nazanin has received in Iran, and the fact that Nazanin was brought once again into court on Saturday November 4 and accused of "spreading propaganda against the regime".

Their three year old child Gabriella has been staying with Iranian grandparents as petitions have called for her mother's release after she was sentenced to five years.

"Nazanin has never trained journalists in Iran and we are pleased that he has admitted to the Iranian Foreign Minister that she was in Iran purely on holiday", Monique Villa, CEO of Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of the news service, said in a statement.

The Times reported Monday that Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was facing an extra five years in prison after Johnson told a British parliamentary select committee last week that she "was simply teaching people journalism" in Iran when she was arrested in April last year.

The foreign secretary made the remarks to a select committee last week which were swiftly denied by her employer.

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"I accept that my remarks could have been clearer in that respect and I'm glad to provide this clarification".

He added: 'Mr Zarif told me that any recent developments in the case had no link to my testimony last week and he would continue to seek a solution on humanitarian grounds'.

Johnson told his Iranian counterpart he intends to visit Iran before the end of the year.

Ratcliffe said the "worst thing" Johnson could do now was "suddenly go quiet and to create this problem without making any clarifications ..."

Despite earlier assurances from the Iranian foreign ministry...

He also called for the British Embassy in Tehran to issue a statement clarifying the situation.

"We spent a long time asking the Foreign Secretary to engage and he did engage last week", Mr Ratcliffe said.

Downing Street also voiced support for Mr Johnson, with Theresa May's official spokesman saying the Prime Minister thinks her Foreign Secretary is "doing a good job representing Britain's interests abroad".

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Speaking before Mr Johnson's phone call, his Cabinet colleague Liam Fox described his comments to the Foreign Affairs Committee as a "slip of the tongue", adding "we have got to be very careful that we are not overreacting to this".

Mr Ratcliffe told Sky News he was pleased with Mr Johnson's condemnation.

The mop-haired former London mayor and zealous Brexiteer Johnson has come under criticism before for his shoot-from-the-hip style of speaking, which his supporters find clever and endearing - "Boris being Boris" - and his critics see as exhausted and buffoonish.

Denton said the family had been campaigning for almost two years to get the Government to "acknowledge that it was a bad thing that she was in prison" and had felt like they were "inching towards saying something she was wrongly imprisoned before the genius that is Boris Johnson added a few extra flourishes to it".

Zaghari-Ratcliffe's family and her employer say that she was on holiday in Iran when she was detained.

"In those circumstances, he should have taken rather less than six days to make that clear".

A "serious mistake" by the Foreign Secretary may add years to Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe's sentence, say campaigners.

However, appearing before MPs on the foreign affairs committee last week, Mr Johnson appeared to contradict that. He lacks attention to detail.

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Some fear the Foreign Secretary's claims could increase the chances of Zaghari-Ratcliffe's detention being prolonged.

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